Faith and Leadership: Mother Emmanuel Five Years Later

From Faith and Leadership:

In the national aftermath of recent racist violence, a church and a community continue the work of healing as they mark the five-year anniversary of the Charleston massacre. On June 17, 2015, nine church members and clergy were murdered there. The victims included the senior pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, along with Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie J. Jackson, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. and Myra Thompson.

Rev. Eric Manning, now in his fourth year as leader of the congregation, acknowledges that it has been a difficult road, and one that he wasn’t fully prepared for. Helping a church recover from a massacre is not taught in divinity school.“I do feel that now, after five years, Mother Emanuel is finding her footing,” Manning said. Before the pandemic, he believed that the congregation was getting to a place of real conversation. “I hosted chat sessions in which many shared that they were finally ready and able to talk about what happened,” he said.

Shelly Rambo, a Boston University School of Theology professor and expert in the field of trauma studies, feels that the term “trauma-attuned” is more appropriate for clergy dealing with such issues. A trauma-attuned church does the collective work “to hold the pain and then transform it,” Rambo said. Rather than a Pollyanna, “God’s going to make it all better” approach, “the work is to imagine a future that’s a continual witness to the harm done,” she said. “It is difficult hope work.” That “hope work” entails rolling up your sleeves and engaging in activism.

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